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Source: Northland Regional Council

Northland’s deer farmers are being urged to make sure their herds are properly permitted with authorities and secured to help protect the region’s environment.
The Northland Regional Council says legally all farms with deer on them in Northland must be registered with the Department of Conservation, but on more than one occasion in recent years the council has come across farmers who were unaware of that requirement.
Council Group Manager Biosecurity – Don McKenzie says 30 years ago there were no known feral deer in Northland, but they’re now thought to be living in the wild in more than half a dozen locations; most the legacy of farm escapes, the balance illegal liberations sourced from other parts of the country.
Mr McKenzie says since March this year the council or its contractors had captured or shot 17 deer, a 50-50 mix of illegal releases or deer farm escapees at a number of sites around the region, from Kaitaia in the north to Kaiwaka in the south.
One of the escapes had been at a 400-hectare Paparoa farm owned by Shane and Lisa Wintle where two yearling red hinds had escaped. Both animals had subsequently been put down, one by Mr Wintle and the second by NRC contractors.
The Wintles have been working with DOC and the council to comply with the rules around deer after earlier being unaware their herd needed to be permitted by DOC.
The couple currently has 180 hinds (worth about $400 each) and 130 young deer on about 60-80 hectares of their farm, which they have owned for three years.
They say despite registering their deer with the National Animal Identification and Tracing (NAIT) scheme and buying and selling some stock they had been unaware of the requirement for a permit in Northland.
‘Frankly I’m surprised we didn’t raise a few eyebrows earlier,” Shane Wintle says.
Along with Taranaki, Northland is one of only of two regions in the North Island where a permit is required to farm deer and the species of deer are also restricted -only red, fallow and wapiti- red hybrid deer are allowed to be farmed. There are also parts of the region where deer farming is banned outright due to proximity to areas with high ecological value.
Although people can be penalised under the Wild Animal Control Act for illegally farming deer or not reporting an escape within 24 hours, Mr McKenzie says authorities generally prefer to work positively with owners to resolve any issues.
In the Wintles’ case, they have already spent $20,000 of their own money improving their deer fencing – much of it during the Covid 19 lockdown – with another $20,000 of fencing around waterways paid for by Kaipara Moana Remediation.
Mr McKenzie says escaped or illegally released deer are an issue because they’re selective browsers, targeting particular forest species over others which can substantially alter a forest’s make-up, along with associated negative impacts on the fauna that rely on those plants.
He says as well as destroying the understorey of native forest by browsing, grazing, bark stripping and trampling (which can all increase soil erosion) feral deer can also damage crops and exotic forests and have been implicated in the transmission of bovine tuberculosis.
“Similarly, our kauri forests are already at risk from kauri dieback and wild goats and pigs – and in some places wild cattle – are adding to that pressure; we don’t want another large hooved animal like deer spreading soil and disease through our forests.”
Feral deer are officially classed as an ‘eradication species’ in the north and while overall their combined numbers aren’t huge, “they’re definitely not wanted here” and it’s illegal to release or move wild deer in or around the region.
The regional council is urging anyone who sees or hears wild deer – or a deer outside a deer farm – to immediately call a 24/7 Deer Hotline ‘0800 FIND DEER’ (0800 346 333).
“To prevent the spread of feral deer in Northland, our council is working closely with our Auckland counterpart, with the Department of Conservation, the Ministry for Primary Industries and OSPRI,” Mr McKenzie says. (OSPRI is a partnership between primary industries and central government that manages the national NAIT and TBfree programmes.)